As told to Ron Bolt
When my mom and dad fought, I would push between them and beg, “Stop it!” Several times, Mom picked up a loaded pistol and went out back to put an end to the craziness and misery. I’d follow her pleading, “Don’t do it. I love you. We need you.” I would talk with her as long as it took to convince her to live and continue as my mother. Sometimes, it took twenty minutes of my tearful pleas.
Once after an intense fight, I heard a shot from the backyard. My heart sank as I rushed into the yard, dreading what I expected to find. My mom had fired the shot into the air. Traumatized, I persuaded her to put away the gun.
“We’re not going to be like our parents,” my cousins agreed. Not all of them were cousins, but kids thrown together while our parents partied. The adults drank heavily, fought and took drugs evenings during the week and throughout the weekend.
The “cousins” shared a common bond of neglect and dysfunctional parents. The adults kept us up late on school nights and made a lot of noise even after we went to bed. We craved attention from our parents, but they were more concerned with their fun than doing what it took to raise children. Unfortunately, their fun involved family-destructive behaviors.
Our house served as the “party house.” Drunks and druggies argued and fought in the house and on the front lawn. Glass ashtrays flew through the air and furniture broke into pieces.
Weekends, our families partied at the lake. The cousins played while our parents sat around the fire drinking and taking drugs.
Often, kids can’t wait to participate in adult activities. Instead of looking forward to partying like our parents, we cousins swore we would never become involved in those kinds of behaviors.
My dad seldom took me anywhere, but when I was 11 he invited me and my two sisters out to eat. I relished that special treat, but at the restaurant he revealed the purpose of his attention. Dad told us, “It’s not working out.” He announced he was moving out of the house and in with his girlfriend. Deeply hurt, I searched for answers. Doesn’t it matter how we feel? Don’t they care about us?
My dad moved back in with the family after a year, but the pattern of separating and getting back together continued through my middle school years. With each separation, Mom and Dad attempted to convince us to take sides against the other. They pressured us to choose one of them.
Life wasn’t much better for my cousins. One of them lived with us after his dad went to prison and his mom killed herself.
My dad served several stints in prison as well. When he wasn’t locked up, he continually let me down. Dad would tell me to expect him at my little league baseball games, but seldom showed up–even when he coached the team. I couldn’t bring new friends home because I couldn’t predict what they might see–a big fight or illegal activities which might get my parents in trouble.
Ashamed of my dad and my family situation, I promised myself, “I never want my kids to experience these things. I’m going to be a better parent.” I made up my mind to find a good wife and raise my kids right.
A couple of families gave me a glimpse of how functional families work. One friend’s parents provided a place where I could go and feel valued. When things got out of control at home, they let me stay overnight and fixed me breakfast. I got a taste of normal family life.
The second time my dad went to prison, I stayed with an aunt and uncle for a year. Living with and watching them gave me a model of parenting I hoped to copy someday.
Drugs became part of the life of the cousin who stayed with us. He hadn’t been able to hold a job and has fathered two children with girlfriends.
The other cousins got involved with drugs in high school and continued the lifestyle afterward. Imitating their parents’ behaviors they formerly abhorred, they began partying during the week. Weekends, they went to the lake where they sat around the fire drinking and drugging.
My older sister began to take and sell drugs, just like our dad. Continuing another family tradition, she spent time in prison. She bore six children, all of whom grew up in different homes. Only one of her children completed high school. Three have dropped out, so far. Two weeks ago, one of her sons attempted suicide. Her children want to do better, but seem unable to pull it off.
My younger sister had two children, neither of which she was able to raise. She later married and divorced.
It felt like my destiny to fall-in with family and friends. Everyone around me lived in the drinking/drug culture. The only girls I knew partied hard. Even though I didn’t participate with them, I found myself surrounded by it. Some nights, my dreams showed me a future of immersing myself in that routine. In spite of my best efforts to escape that way of life, it appeared to be my fate.
My cousins finally persuaded me to smoke marijuana. They were pleased to see me break down after holding out for so long. They welcomed me to their traditions and felt relieved after hearing me say I would never take drugs–just like they used to say.
Afterward, I told myself, “You know, I’m not going to do this. I’m not going down this road.”
One weekend, my young nephew came to stay with me. He told me, “Grandma usually takes me to church Sunday mornings. I wish someone would take me.”
I recalled that when I was small a bus used to pick up my sisters and me and take us to Sunday School. I recalled the nice adults who drove the bus and talked with me at church. They even gave me a Bible. I couldn’t read it at the time, but I kept it on my bedroom desk, like an important trophy.
“I’ll take you to church,” I told my nephew. I not only took my nephew, but attended the services myself. That decision became a defining moment in my life.
My epiphany involved an understanding that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do solely on willpower. I needed to separate myself from my friends and even my family on occasions when they drank and took drugs. I dedicated myself to reading and studying God’s Word and Christian books.
I realized my focus had been all about putting out the effort to avoid becoming sucked into my family and friends’ culture. It had been tough. I’d spent many lonely times, sitting home alone, struggling to stand firm. Now, I got it–that wasn’t going to be enough.
Instead of refusing to give in, I dedicated myself to serving God by serving people who needed help. So it became about impacting other people rather that all about me. At the same time, it made my life better.
I volunteered as a camp counselor and church youth group helper. On mission trips to Mexico, I helped with construction projects, entertained children with puppet shows, played games with them and fed people. I joined a prison ministry even though I was really scared. People with problems accepted my counsel. I visited my sister in prison and my dad in the hospital.
The youth pastor at church was my age and he let me hang out with him. He gave me a book that helped mold me into a strong, confident, caring man. Melody Green’s No Compromise, a biography of her husband, portrayed Keith Green’s compassion for people. He didn’t let what others were doing affect him. He refused to compromise his dedication to serving God and people in need, even when he was the only one. Green’s great effort helped struggling people succeed, serving as a model for the desires developing in my heart.
Part of breaking free involved conversations with my then divorced mom and dad. I came to understand Mom and Dad didn’t neglect us purposefully–they just didn’t have a clue how to make a family work. My dad just carried on the traditions of his alcoholic father.
I confessed my hurts and anger and responded to their accusations and arguments with, “I’m not going to argue with you. I love you.” Forgiving them did not take away my memories of hurting, nor their anger, but it released the tension between us and we chose to leave the pain of the past behind. Forgiving them stands out as a healing event for me and my relationship with my parents. They ended up respecting me for escaping the family history of dysfunction and trouble.
I did find a good wife and partnered with her to raise our children. We are always nearby for our three kids, ages 3-12. Adult cable channels are not available. We’ve established behavioral and geographical boundaries for our children and we all interact with each other throughout the day. The children have a bedtime and quiet environment when they go to bed. All of these concepts were foreign for my childhood family.
Early in our marriage, my anger problems sometimes surfaced. I immediately felt sorry after an outburst, telling myself, “My family deserves better than this.” I realized I had to address my behavior right away. I spent a lot of time in prayer, petitioning God to remake me into a patient husband and father. I understood the angry lashing-out was not making the situation any better, but threatened to destroy my family. I needed to stop blaming others for things not getting better. I accepted ownership of who I am as a human being and acknowledged my responsibility to become who I wanted to be.
I tell myself, “Every day is a chance to do better than I did yesterday. Instead of holding onto the past, there’s always a today to improve. Being sorry is not enough–I don’t have to live that way today. The decisions I make today define who I will be tomorrow.”
Jerry’s Advice for Kids
●Find someone who’s doing things the right way and attach yourself to them.
●Be willing to listen to adults who are living life they way you would like to live it. Accept their wisdom.
●There is nothing more powerful than having someone help you and show you the way. It greatly increases the chances over trying to do it by yourself.
Jerry’s Advice for Adults
●If you went down the wrong road, it wasn’t intentional. You have to be able to forgive yourself. You deserve forgiveness and your
children deserve you to become the parent you hoped to become.
●Attach to people you look up to, especially those who overcame similar situations. Befriend them and connect with them and they can help you in the process of getting past your past.
Jerry Mullins helped his father accept Christ as his Savior. His dad’s demeanor and attitude demonstrated joy and peace prior to his death. Jerry’s mother accepted Christ as well, telling Jerry, “I don’t want to live this way any more.” Jerry has served as a full-time youth pastor for eleven years.
For more inspirational stories, visit rrbolt.wix.com/every-family